last week

I spent last week teaching five new extra board drivers all of the routes we drive out of Nicollet.

You may recall that I used to work the extra board. It was a good way to (occasionally) get decent work when I had very little seniority. The extra board is a list of pieces of work. The work can get put on the board for a lot of reasons. I won't list all of the reasons, but when drivers are sick or haven't shown up, or take a vacation day or go to a Transit Ambassador or Safety Keys class for the day, their work gets added to the extra board.

The extra board gets created every day. The dispatcher who compiles the board needs to know by noon if a driver will be back to work the next day. If he doesn't know that a driver will be back, their work will go back on the board.

If a driver doesn't show up for work, and no one knew a day in advance that they wouldn't be there, a call driver has to cover it. On-call shifts are built into the board. Some can be picked, others get added to the mix. Call drivers sit at the garage and do bus changes, fill in trips for late or broken down buses, and go out for drivers who don't show up.

I really enjoyed working the extra board. I did something different every day. The drawback is that I never knew what I was doing on a particular day until 5:00 PM the day before, which is the earliest drivers can call in to get their work.

Anyway, the point is that to work the extra board, a driver has to know every route out of a garage and everything about each of those routes. It's a lot of information.

The drivers I trained last week each knew some of the routes they needed to know. But not everyone knew the same routes. Some knew parts of some routes, but not necessarily the same parts that others knew.

So we just pushed through. I can't remember if we actually looked at every single route out of Nicollet, but if we didn't, it was close.

Six bus drivers, one van. The only thing that everyone is guaranteed to have in common is buses. So what do we talk about? Buses. Bus stories. Passengers. Bus stories.


I'll confess that I'm guilty, too. But I try to keep my stories relevant, short and on the positive side of things.

The group I had was pretty good, really. Nice people. I heard plenty of negative comments about traffic, passengers, whatever, but it never got out of control. I've been in group situations with drivers where the negativity took over and it became a black swamp of bad stories. Thankfully, that never happened.

Sometimes when I tell people that we take drivers out to show them the routes, I get asked why we can't just give them a map and turn them loose.

Here is a map from a hand schedule. Our maps are similar, but with additional notes all over them.

It's not rocket science by any means, but it can get very confusing. There are turns and lane changes that need to be explained. For instance, on the route above, there's no way to know that to get to the Southdale Park and Ride, one turns into the second driveway on 69th. But for some pieces of work, we go into the first driveway and wait in a different place.

So I did a lot of talking. Way more talking than I like. I was hoarse every day. I didn't go to trivia on Wednesday night because I was sick of talking.

It was a nice week, though.

I have the next couple of days off. I might actually get holiday cards sent this year. We'll see.

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my paychecks will be smaller again

Yesterday was my last day acting as a full-time instructor. Earlier in the week, I taught some new mechanics how to drive a bus. They passed their CDL tests.

I spent yesterday with a new driver who failed his CDL test the first time. He got four hours of one-on-one training with me, then he took it again. He passed, which was no surprise. He was just taking his left turns a little too tightly. We fixed his tendencies in about fifteen minutes. Then we drove around for three-and-a-half more hours. Fortunately, he was a friendly guy.

I really enjoyed my time as a FT instructor. I learned a lot, got to do some things I wouldn't have if I were driving and I met quite a few interesting people. The hours I've worked and my paychecks have been awfully nice.

But I'm ready to get back to driving. My back has been sore most of the summer and fall from riding in the bus all day. And I'm ready for a break from responsibility. I know that a $275,000 (?) vehicle and 50 people equals responsibility, but you know, it's a different kind.

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I witnessed an accident the other day.

It was a completely preventable accident and I'm surprised that I haven't seen one just like it before.

I was on the 5 line with a student who was practicing for his in-service test. He's a good driver; he was an instructor at First Student. We were northbound on Chicago at 42nd Street when he pulled over for a red light.

The woman in the SUV behind us, who had been "pushing" my student driver from behind, took that as her opportunity to get around the #!&% bus.

But apparently Ms. Andretti couldn't be bothered to look at the stop light. It was still red, of course.

She accelerated into the intersection and plowed into the front of a older, smallish Honda or Toyota driven by what appeared to be a Latino immigrant.

We stayed long enough to make sure everyone was OK. My student wasn't comfortable making a call to Control to tell them that he was a witness, so since I'd seen the whole thing, I called them. I filled out the appropriate form later.

So you know I'm kind of cynical. There was at least one other witness and everyone appeared to be OK, so I probably wouldn't have had to call Control or fill out the report. But all I could picture was the woman in the SUV telling the cops that she went through that intersection on yellow and that Pedro over there jumped the green by a few seconds. And "Pedro" might not have the English skills to explain otherwise.

Yeah, it's a complete and total stretch, from top to bottom. But I felt better for having done it.

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oh yeah...

My three students all passed their in-service driving tests today!



there was a lot of guessing

I took two of my students out to do some route training today. Another relief instructor had a free day so he was assigned to help me out. He took the third student.

We were planning to drive an articulated bus in service, but that wasn't going to work, so we opted to do the route training instead. There was a small problem. Neither the other instructor nor I work out of Heywood Garage, which is where the work is assigned, so we don't know the routes. OK, that's not completely true. It turned out that one of the routes is also serviced by Ruter Garage, which is where the other guy works. So he took the student with that route.

I worked out of Heywood about four years ago. I've forgotten nearly all the routes I learned there. But the two students and I had five routes to learn and I was the guy to teach them. It was a case of the blind leading the blind. We circled around to look at several areas twice. I took a u-turn that was safe, but not necessarily advisable. I went through a transit station the wrong way.It probably took an hour longer than it should have. But we managed to get through all of them.

And I got to see some areas I haven't seen for along time. It was pretty fun, really.



random things

I ran into a woman at the dog park who went to school with my brother. They may have attended elementary through high school together. I'm not sure. As usual, I would have probably seemed a lot less creepy if I'd just not said anything. But what fun is that? I remember people and I like to say hello.

Then I ran into Ranty and her husband at Tracy's tonight. We've never met in real life, but I think it was OK that I recognized them and said hello. Wyatt, T-Unit, Teresa and I were there for pub trivia. The Shock Monkeys (Trivia Division) got destroyed again.

I have a class of three who will take their CDL tests tomorrow. Here's one of them practicing the straight back. In three tries, I've been unable to do it. Bad instructor!

I went to Kowalski's for some groceries this evening and noticed an interesting sign. I took this picture from the next aisle over because a woman was working in that aisle. Perhaps she was stocking cat liter!

Kassie and I went to lovely Wausau, Wisconsin last weekend to celebrate my grandparents' 70th wedding anniversary. Yeah, you read that right. They've been married a long time.

We saw a polka band in the middle of downtown.

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Today I took over a class of new part-time drivers from Dan, another relief instructor.

There were two students and I knew them because I rode with them last week to get a feel for what they might need. I guess I had a couple of pointers, but they were token suggestions, really. Dan has a lot of driving experience and apparently, he's a good teacher. They didn't need much of anything from me, which was good, because today was their in-service driving test.

I asked them to be there at 8:00 so they could get in a bus and get warmed up before their test at 9:00.

One of them showed up. He passed with flying colors. The other one eventually showed up at the Instruction Center, where she was "disqualified," due to other late arrivals. That is, she was fired for being late.

I know that people have wildly varied life situations, attitudes, goals, etc. But without any knowledge of her situation, I have a hard time understanding this woman's decision. Driving bus isn't a glamorous, high-paying career by any stretch, but the pay is solid, the benefits are good and while the work can be stressful, it can also be fun and rewarding. And even if it isn't a career choice, it can be a very good job for a while until a career comes along.

I was reminded of a guy who went through the classroom portion of training with my previous class. They got their first paycheck; he called in sick the next day. Two weeks later, when they got their paycheck, he called in sick again. And then he got fired. He was a young guy with a kid on the way. He was also quite personable and seemed pretty sharp. But he sure was dumb. He could have had a good career. What will he do now? I have no idea, but he was driving school bus before he came to M*tro Tr*nsit.

I hope those two get their acts together. They seemed like decent people. I suppose the longer I stick around and the more people I train, the less I'll take it personally if they fail or quit or get fired. I know it's stupid to take it personally anyway, but in a small way, I do.

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why I love mary lucia almost as much as ice cream, donuts and kassie

Today on my way home from the Instruction Center where I spent the day proofreading tests, making copies and purchasing cone cups, Mary Lucia played "Icky Thump" by The White Stripes on the radio.

I've mentioned that I'm not really a fan of Meg and Jack, and I'm not really tuned in to their whole scene. As I listened to "Icky Thump," I thought, "The White Stripes: Making it cool for hipsters to like Led Zeppelin."

Then I wondered, "Do hipsters already like Led Zeppelin? Do hipsters even like The White Stripes? Or since a 38-year-old bus driver knows them well enough to have an opinion of them, are they way uncool?"

Then I thought, "I'd sure like to hear some Led Zeppelin."

And then Mary played "Bron-Y-Aur Stomp" by... Led Zeppelin.

Thanks, Mary. I love you. (But not as much as ice cream, donuts or Kassie.)

Now playing: Led Zeppelin - Whole Lotta Love
via FoxyTunes

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so far, so good

One of my students drove his work this morning. He wasn't supposed to. It wasn't a real big deal and it sounds like it went well. Lucky for me. I guess I wasn't clear enough about our schedule. Fortunately, the other guy showed up when he was supposed to.

I was at the Instruction Center for a while today. I'll be working for them as a full-time instructor until early October. We have to train 42 part-time drivers who will be hired as full-time drivers. We're going to put 75 (I think) new buses on the road every day in response to the ex-bridge.

My boss at IC sort of apologized for not having the time to get out of his office and see how we (the relief instructors working as full-time instructors) are doing. He acknowledged that we aren't getting a lot of support. It is kind of hard to move into instruction after not having done it for a year or so. There are a lot of procedures and techniques that I had forgotten.

I am getting a lot of help, though. First, I was working with Tom, a FT instructor. He showed me how he runs a classroom and reminded me how to get started in a bus with new students. Then I moved back to Nicollet and I talk daily to the FT instructors who are based there. They've been a big help, reminding me of meetings I need to schedule, forms I need to fill out, etc. And they share their instruction techniques. Also, our safety supervisor at Nicollet has ridden with me and spoken with me and my students on numerous occasions. He's been very supportive and very helpful.

So really, I think everything is going the way it should be going. And I have a couple more months to enjoy it.

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training update

I've been training three new drivers. As I mentioned, they passed their CDL tests a couple weeks ago. That's the easy driving test.

The next step for new drivers is to pass their in-service test. I've spent the last two weeks riding the bus while they practiced picking people up.

With the exception of a couple days spent on the 2 and 94 lines, and some time for miscellaneous other tasks, we were on the 17 the whole time. That's the route Nicollet Garage's safety supervisor tests them on. Back and forth, back and forth between downtown and Lake and France. I really like the 17 when we don't have to follow a schedule.

So I sat in the seat behind the fold-up seats and watched them. Are they checking their mirrors every 5-8 seconds? Getting close enough to the curb? Beeping their horn as they approach vehicles that might have someone near them? Are they looking in their mirrors before, and as, they change lanes? Traveling at an appropriate speed? Leaving themselves enough space between the bus and the vehicle in front of them? Pushing and pulling on the steering wheel when turning (not hand-over-hand)? Staying off the curb? Keeping an eye on stoplights? Pulling the emergency brake when people are loading or unloading bicycles? Checking the rear door, front door, right exterior mirror, middle interior mirror, left exterior mirror, turning on the left turn signal, checking the right exterior mirror again, then the left exterior mirror again- all in that order, before leaving a bus stop? Completely covering the brake and accelerator pedals with their foot? Being polite? Calling streets? Looking into their future? Staying on route? Getting the fare recorded correctly? Giving out the correct transfers? etc. etc. etc.

I find that it's much more tiring to ride the bus than it is to drive it, especially as an instructor. It definitely takes energy to keep up with and catch everything that my students are doing. Also, when I'm driving, I know when I'm going to brake, turn and swerve. My body is prepared for the motion. When someone else drives, it's all reaction. I've been a little sore.

Anyway. Today, they put it all together. They all passed their in-service tests.

I'm happy for them. I'm happy for me. Though it's up to them to get it right, and they deserve all the credit, I always feel like their performance reflects my instruction.

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good morning

Oh, look! It's 3:46 in the morning and I am going to work in a few minutes.

We take the new drivers out for an early day, and today is the day. I guess it's so they can experience driving in the early morning in Minneapolis.

Frankly, the experience is just like driving around downtown St. Paul at 6:00 in the evening. Never seen downtown St. Paul at 6:00 in the evening? Very few have, my friend.




All three of the guys I've been training passed their CDL road tests. Sweet.



new drivers, kind of

Last week the class of thirteen new drivers that I was helping with got broken up into five groups of two to three drivers each. Each group is assigned an instructor to teach them to drive and pass the Commercial Driver's License test. (This is what I was doing a couple weeks ago.)

Based on my experience with the larger class, I'm guessing that no one is unhappy with the students they got, but I have to say I think I lucked out. All three of my guys have driven school bus, and they don't have many bad habits. I've had to get picky about a few things, but for the most part, it's been smooth sailing.

We saw a new bus parked at one of the garages. I like the headlights.

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change in venue

When I applied at M*tro Tr*nsit, I filled out an application and turned it in. I went to a meeting with a dozen or so new employees at the Human Resources office where we signed up for a physical. I passed the physical and I was hired.

Now, applicants go through a relatively lengthy and rigorous process. They take at least one written test (I think they might take two or three) and have an interview.

Naturally, I'm in favor of the more selective process. Better drivers make a better company, which means more job security. (At least I'd like to think that's the way it will work...) At the very least, it means that on the whole, it ought to be easier to train new drivers. Approximately 15% of all applicants make it to the first class. Of course, that includes people who choose not to take the position for whatever reason.

I spent Monday through Wednesday in a classroom with brand-new part-time drivers.

I have a few minor pet peeves when it comes to group situations at MT. I'm guessing that these might be universal, but since I've never been to a business meeting or conference, I don't know.

One of them is the person or people with an endless supply of really stupid questions. (Yeah, yeah... no such thing, right? Wrong.) Another is the avalanche of stories started by one person with an anecdote about, say, someone driving like an idiot while on their cell phone. Everyone has at least one of those stories and some groups want to share all of them. And finally, there always seems to be someone who doesn't know how to listen and take turns speaking.

I'm happy to report that this class has none of those flaws, at least to the point where I want to shove an icepick into my ears. As far as I know, I will be back with that class tomorrow.

I arrived at the Instruction Center on Thursday and was told that I'd be doing something different for the rest of the week. I was assigned to three students from the class ahead of the one with which I'd been working. It was their first day on a bus.

I had to tell them how to turn on a bus. And drive it. Cool.

When I was at The Coo studying to be an elementary teacher, the teaching of reading was of particular interest to me. This kind of felt similar, and it was fun.

It's been at least a year since I went out with drivers on their very first day, and the last (and only) time I did it, I was being mentored, so I just watched. I got some quick advice from some of the full-time guys and took off. My assignment was to begin to get them prepared to take their Commercial Driver's License test.

Day 1:
I showed them how to pre-trip a bus. We spent a while working on left turns. Then backing. Then right turns. And right turns some more. If they hit a curb on the driving part of the CDL test, they immediately fail. We drove around southern Bloomington for hours.

Day 2:
We drove around. A lot. We worked on what their eyes, hands and feet were doing, and how what they're looking at and how they're moving affects how and where bus is in relation to everything. We also went over the air brake part of the test and practiced the straight back and the alley back. Here's one of the guys practicing the alley back:

The rear bumper is supposed to end up in the box created by the four cones at the back.

I enjoyed my two days with those guys. I was asked to leave comments in their jackets (training folders). I left them in a crass approximation of haiku.

I hope someone finds that amusing...

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When I wrote "at least a month" a couple posts ago, I guess I should have said "three months."



new schedule for a while

Look! It's 10:2something on a Friday night and I'm not in bed! Don't I have to get up at 3:45 tomorrow morning?


Starting Monday, I'll be assisting Tom, a full-time instructor, with a new part-time driver class.

So it's M-F, 8-4 for me for at least a month. Nice.

I think I'll sort of miss driving, as summer is my favorite time to be out and about, but I'm looking forward to working with Tom and I need to take the breaks from driving when I can get them.



route training

I was route training most of the week. I think I've mentioned that it's kind of a nice break. It's been a relatively relaxing week.

Today I drove my regular Friday work. The 17 was really busy this morning. The 23 was quite slow this evening.

I talked to a guy this morning who lost his job last month. This morning he left the "mean, mean girl" with whom had been staying for the last several days. He was going to move in with a hooker. I wished him luck; I didn't have much else to say.

A lady this evening lamented, "I smelled like Prince all damned day!"

I don't have to get up at 4:00 in the morning tomorrow. It's the first day of the new work pick and I'm going to be in the garage to answer questions for people with new work that they might be unsure about. I'm also going to show someone the 23 line.

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you can skip this post; it's pretty boring

So after well over a day of what felt like a perpetual storm front, we finally got a storm. As usual, it's worst in the N and NW 'burbs. When Jeff and I got home from the dog park, the sirens were blaring. I thought we might be in for some excitement, but it doesn't look like we are.

C'est dommage.

I went out for a few hours this morning to train a guy on the 6 line. The last time I showed him a route, our bus broke down. We did not have a problem this morning.

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